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Ask A Vet: Can Cats Be Trained?

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Some people think that it is impossible to train cats and kittens, but actually, it is not impossible and IS imperative. Anyone who has ever watched a magic show in Vegas featuring big cats knows that cats will work for the right motivator as long as someone has taken the time to show them what action will precipitate the reward.

Here are some tips to help you make the most out of training your cat or kitten:

  1. Find a food reward that is of high value to your cat. Different cats like different things, but all cats tend to like canned cat food and meats. As long your cat does not have a fish allergy, some people have successfully used canned tuna as a training tool. The smell can motivate his compliance. Make sure that you are not offering “junk food”. As always, choose whole foods, avoiding additives and chemical processing.
  2. Make sure your cat depends on you for meeting her needs. Do not leave food available all the time for her to eat at her leizure. Offer your cat’s food at specific times and take it away after 10-15 minutes if she does not finish it all.  You want her to be tuned in and have a hunger drive to help focus her thoughts on what you want her to learn.  Some people even feed a cat his entire meal as a reward system by offering only a small amount at a time when the desired action is performed.
  3. Simplify your requests so she is sure what you want and what will get rewarded. Start with tasks that we know are easy, like coming to you quietly or touching her nose to an object.  The idea is to teach her that you will require actions of her and she will get a reward. Think of mice learning a maze or pushing a lever for a food reward. Your cat is definitely smarter than a mouse!
  4. Never reward behaviors that you did not ask for, like meowing loudly and demanding attention. If he is screaming for his treat, you must ignore it or redirect him to perform his task instead and then get the reward.
  5. Have fun! Training time is a priceless bonding time for you and your cat. It increases your cat’s dependence on you and her attention to you. It keeps her curiosity engaged and her mind active. It also reminds you why you love your cat and you will feel pride in her accomplishments. You can increase the complexity of what she learns as she begins to look to you for cues to get what she needs. She can learn things that other cats do not know. We had a cat that would fetch a wadded paper ball much to our delight.

Training a cat is a worthwhile endeavor that builds a better relationship. Positive reinforcement (working for a pay-off) is the preferred method of learning because it creates a brain pathway linking an action directly to a desired response. Additional benefit comes because it is fun to reward your cat and time spent training is an investment in your human-animal bond.

 

 

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About The Author: Dr. Kathryn Primm is a practicing small animal veterinarian and practice owner at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, TN.  She has consulted on articles for national magazines, done numerous radio interviews and appeared on local television. She has contributed to articles for Prevention magazine (April 2015) and Woman’s Day (Feb 2014 and June 2015). Her radio segment Chattanooga Pet Talk airs each week on all the local iHeart Media affiliates. She has a social media presence on TwitterFacebook and Google+ and enjoys interaction with others about her passions, animals and communication.  She has written a book, Tennessee Tails:Pets and Their People. The book received recognition as Runner Up in the Memoirs category at a national book festival. You can read more about Dr. Primm and how to get the best value for your pet care dollar at her website, www.drprimm.com.

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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